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Why Reflect
Judi Fenton

I meet teachers all the time who say that they don’t have the time to reflect on their work. I completely understand where they are coming from. We are constantly working; when we are not actually in our classrooms, we are planning lessons and units, marking papers, participating in professional development, doing required paperwork. Teaching is not, nor has it ever been, a job that ends at 3:00.

However, reflecting on what we do is another crucial part of our work, one that can actually make everything else easier. Why?

We’ll have to do less planning next time we teach a lesson or a unit.
We can think about and record what aspects of the unit the students were most engaged by, what they lost interest in, what made a mess in the classroom. When we’ve identified areas of success and challenges, we can brainstorm ways to do it better next time. I record my thoughts and ideas on the already written lesson plans (either on the computer or on paper), so I can see how I did it the first time and how I changed it. Since each group we teach is different, you never know when something that flopped with one group will take off with another, that’s just the nature of learning. So, I like to have as many versions of a unit, and options within it, as I can! We’re never quite sure where a class will take us.

Reflecting in a deliberate manner helps us to realize that there are many answers to our dilemmas.
I find that when I write about issues I have with students, colleagues, supervisors, lessons, etc. I often come up with solutions that I never imagined could come out of my brain. The act of deliberate, intentional reflection seems to enable the answers inside of me (and I believe inside of all of us) to bubble to the surface and become conscious thoughts.

Reflecting on student behavior and our role in that behavior can help us to discover how to help a student who is struggling to be good.
When I write about any behavioral incidents, I try to stay as non-judgmental as I can, stating just the facts. When I re-read my account of an incident, I can see what the student did, as well as what I did, that created the situation. Often I can find the moment when I did not handle the situation in a way that could defuse it. Reflecting on critical incidents has also made me realize just how much power we teachers have, and that it is my responsibility to treat my students respectfully and help them to "be good."

Reflecting on student learning helps us become better teachers.
Besides making teaching easier, reflecting on our work makes us more effective. I have always enjoyed taking some to time watch my students learn. I write observations about how they interact with content and with one another (when working in groups). This helps me a great deal when planning for students. I notice who works best alone, who needs to reread material after we read it together as a group, who benefits from working with a partner, who needs concrete materials to support learning, etc. I have collected data that helps me to differentiate instruction for my students.

This article has most likely not converted you to a life of reflection, but I do hope that it gave you something to reflect on!

See also Making a Practice of Reflection by Judy Jones.

Do you have a comment or question about this article? E-mail Judi.


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